Source: Sherman Publications

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Volunteer helps battle 50-acre Colorado wildfire

by Susan Bromley

June 15, 2011

Erin Allen at wildfire. Photo provided.
Katie (Quisenberry) Allen, a 1996 Brandon High School graduate, dropped her husband, Erin, off at the scene of a wildfire June 8.

Then she returned home with their daughters, Lana, 2, and Fiona, 6-months, and prayed.

"I worry of course," said Katie. "It was overwhelming… I am definitely proud of him, especially because he is a volunteer. He does this for free."

Erin Allen, 27, works as a gold miner for the Anglo Gold Ashanti Mining Company to provide for his family, but out of a sheer desire to serve others, he is a member of the Victor Volunteer Fire Department in Teller County, Colorado.

On June 8, the 9-year anniversary of the Hayman fire, one of the largest wildfires in Colorado history, Erin Allen was called to assist in the Navajo Mountain Mesa Fire. Named after the subdivision in which it originated, the fire was threatening more than 100 homes. Residents were safely evacuated and Erin's department, consisting of eight volunteers, as well as six other departments, responded to contain the blaze.

"We all work together, because we're all small," said Erin of the fire departments.

A taskforce pages the departments when a wildfire starts. He estimated the activation was received within 10 minutes of the fire being reported and he was on scene within 40 minutes.

"We brought two trucks and two crews and sent one crew back to town to cover our area, and kept our truck and crew of three," he said.

Erin and the other firefighters then waited for air support to get control of the fire.

"The winds were really bad and the flames were too much to get guys in on the ground," he recalled.

The first step was containment. The firefighters cleared an area around the fire of all vegetation—trees, grass and brush, that was wide enough to prevent the fire from jumping to the safe zone. Erin and his comrades dug trenches with hand tools, what he calls "scratching lines" around houses.

"We have modified axes and shovels and rakes," he said. "They're garden tools on steroids."

"Because this was in a subdivision, we called in smoke jumpers ," he continued. "They are wild land crews, stationed all over the country and basically you can fly them in from anywhere and they parachute in to areas you can't get guys into."

Erin and the other crewmembers from his department worked all night, going from house to house and spraying water on hot spots. Some of the homes were located just 15 feet from where the trenches were dug.

"The trucks are fairly small, with limited amounts of water," he noted. "You try to conserve and use only what you need."

Erin and the volunteers from his department worked the fire for 24 hours, then went home, got some rest, and returned to their paying jobs as other firefighters were called in.

"The comaraderie, we're all out there working together, it keeps you going," he said. "You're not doing it by yourself, and you don't realize how tired you are until you get home…You have to have some kind of fear with a fire like this. It's dangerous, but we receive training, so we understand… You get a feeling when you help somebody, there's just no way to explain— a sense of accomplishment that you don't know until you've done it."

Erin, a Navy veteran, and the other volunteers in his department fight about 20 wildfires per year.

The Navajo Mountain Mesa fire consumed roughly 50 acres of land, but not one house was lost. Residents returned to their homes June 12. The cause of the wildfire, one of several in Colorado this month, was undetermined as of presstime.